Cooley’s Down-Under Program Offers Equity & Remedies Taught By the “Problem Method”

By Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer

Professor Stockmeyer has taught Equity & Remedies at Cooley since 1977 and at two other law schools during academic sabbaticals.  He is excited to be teaching the course in Cooley’s 2013 Australia-New Zealand Foreign Study Program using the “problem method.”  Here he shares his thoughts on why he prefers that way of teaching.

The mantra of a Remedies course is “no wrong without a remedy.”  Some Remedies courses are organized remedy-by-remedy (“Today we will discuss punitive damages.”).  In my view, a more practice-oriented approach is to study Remedies wrong-by-wrong (“Today we will discuss remedies for fraud.”).  That way students have an opportunity to compare and contrast the remedies available for a particular wrong (tort, breach of contract, misdealing, etc.).

I have also come to prefer the problem method of instruction for Remedies.  Instead of briefing cases and reciting them in class, students master legal doctrine by studying assigned readings in a hornbook.  Then, and most importantly, they attempt to apply what they have learned by analyzing problems similar to those that a law firm associate might be asked to prepare a memo on.  Class discussion consists of a collaborative, brainstorming approach to resolving the problems.

I think that the problem method has several advantages over the traditional case-recitation and lecture methods of teaching.  First, it is practice-oriented.  Clients have problems; lawyers research the law to help resolve them.  Second, it is contemporary.  A problem-based approach suits the learning styles of today’s students.  Third, it is engaging.  Students in second- and third-year doctrinal courses can be difficult to motivate.  The problem method encourages active participation.

The problem method is part of the movement toward Problem-Based Learning (PBL).  Medical schools pioneered PBL beginning in the 1960’s.  It has since spread to other professional schools here and abroad.  A review of the literature found that “PBL develops more positive student attitudes, fosters a deeper approach to learning, and helps students retain knowledge longer than traditional instruction.”

I have asked students to comment on my use of the problem method on course evaluation forms.  The running total is 75% favorable, 25% unfavorable.  Representative positive comments include:

“The law firm format made being called on less threatening (‘user friendly’).”

“The problem method took a while to get used to, but helped in learning how to apply the material to sets of facts.”

“I like the problem method better than reading all the cases.  Things seemed more clear.”

-and-

“Anything beats reading cases.”

If you think that you would enjoy studying Equity & Remedies by the problem method, locate your passport and enroll in Cooley’s 2013 Foreign Studies Program in Australia/New Zealand.  Meanwhile, the course TWEN home page is up.  View it at http://lawschool.westlaw.com/manage/homepage.aspx?openhomepage=y&courseid=25710 (TWEN sign-on required).

For more information on Professor Stockmeyer’s approach to teaching Equity & Remedies, see his 2010 article “An Open Letter to a Colleague Preparing to Teach Remedies” in the Thomas M. Cooley Journal of Practical and Clinical Law, available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1743652.  

3 Comments

Filed under Faculty Scholarship, Knowledge, Skills, Ethics

3 responses to “Cooley’s Down-Under Program Offers Equity & Remedies Taught By the “Problem Method”

  1. Otto Stockmeyer

    Our Equity & Remedies class has now met a total of five times and I am pleased with the results so far. Recitations are improving as students get accustomed to the Problem Method. And I have the impression that student focus has shifted from learning what’s necessary to pass an exam to learning what’s necessary to properly advise a client.

  2. The course evaluations are in, and for the most part they were gratifyingly positive. Asked to rate the course from 1 to 5, one enthusiastic student gave Equity & Remedies a 10 and added: “I absolutely loved the problem method and Professor Stockmeyer! It was easier for me to remember things and allowed me to apply the readings as if I were a lawyer practicing.” Another wrote: “I liked the Equity & Remedies problem method. I thought it was more hands on and easier to learn, especially in a study abroad program.” But there was this dissenting voice: “Problem method was horrid-while I was excited about not briefing & reading cases initially I was wrong. After 2 weeks of not learning anything I wished we had cases.” Oh well, in the words of the philosopher Ricky Nelson, “It’s all right now, learned my lesson well. You see, ya can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

  3. A new book, Teaching Law Practice: Preparing the Next Generation of Lawyers (Vandeplas Publishing, 2013), includes a chapter on teaching Remedies with the Problem Method that I contributed, based in part on my experience Down Under. It has been posted on CALI’s eLangdell Commons and is available here: http://elangdell.cali.org/commons/sites/elangdell.cali.org.commons/files/lec/25511/Teaching%20Practice%20Book–%20July%202013-%20Word%202013%20version-3.pdf

    – Professor Stockmeyer

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